Going Beyond Limits, for Better or for Worse: Anime NYC 2021

ANIME NYC HAS REPORTED A CONFIRMED CASE OF THE COVID-19 OMICRON VARIANT. IF YOU ATTENDED ANIME NYC, GO GET A COVID-19 TEST. 

One year ago, New York City was still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines had not yet begun to roll out, and many of the annual traditions we expected had to be put on hold—possibly even indefinitely. Though not seen in the same rarefied light as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s, Anime NYC had become an annual outing for my friends and me. I was sad, though understanding, that 2020 had to be canceled.

Anime NYC is right in my backyard, tends to have some interesting Japanese industry guests, and the fact that it has thrived in one of the toughest convention cities (see the defunct Big Apple Anime Fest and New York Anime Festival, among others) meant I’ve felt a strong desire to support the event—lest it go away and be substituted by unscrupulous scams and the like. When Left Field Media announced that Anime NYC 2021 was on, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation. 

Lines, Crowds, and COVID Mitigation

Vaccination rates are generally high in NYC, and we have a general mandate for indoor venues. However, the situation was different even compared to Otakon three months ago, thanks to the rise of the Delta variant, the colder weather, and concern over waning efficacy of vaccines. In the end, I decided to attend, thinking that there might be a drop in attendance that would give plenty of breathing room. After all, New York Comic Con 2021 in October saw lower numbers, right?

Not so. Anime NYC 2021 was packed with fans extremely ready to revel in the convention experience. In fact, attendance was up compared to 2019—from 46,000 to 53,000. By comparison, New York Comic Con saw a drop from 260,000 to 150,000. 

I find that this contrast highlights the difference between having a larger but relative more casual and mainstream audience versus a hardcore base ready to go wild. The former will see better results in the good times, but the latter will ride with you even when it gets bad. I suspect this has less to do with loyalty towards Anime NYC itself and more to do with passion for anime and manga in general, but the results are the same.

Anime NYC 2021 was from Friday, November 19 to Sunday, November 21. It was clear that the showrunners knew how big the lines were going to get, as they began sending out alerts encouraging as many people to grab their vaccination wristband and badge on Thursday before the con. However many heeded their advice, by the time Friday rolled around, it was clearly not enough. The con opened at 1pm, but people were lining up since 9am, packed together outside in fairly cold weather, all while being unsure of whether they were on the right line. In previous years, this would have been a nuisance. With COVID-19 around, I could only hope that people kept their masks on and were smart about it.

As a press attendee, I had the benefit of being able to avoid the brunt of these problems. However, what should have been a five-minute process of “getting in” turned into almost half an hour as I was told three different things by three different people as to how to get my wristband and get into the Jacob Javits to get my press badge. So while I was fortunate to not have gotten the worst of the lines, the small taste I had made me aware of how much worse it probably was for the attendees on Friday. Saturday and Sunday seemed more organized, but I don’t know how much it alleviated any issues.

In addition to better communication and maybe even the ability to line up indoors, I have to wonder how much of the problem is that the Thursday badge pick-up hours only go to 6pm. Anime NYC is very much a commuter con, and I imagine many people are working or going to school from 10am to 6pm. Even in pandemic times, New York is still often the city that never sleeps.

Omicron Variant

Of course, the elephant in the room in hindsight is the news that one attendee had a case of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. Any sort of precautions were inevitably taken without knowledge of its existence, but excuses also don’t treat infections. Thankfully, none of the people I know personally who attended Anime NYC (including myself) have tested positive, but between reports that the Omicron variant spreads more easily and that the person who was found to have it may have spread it to half of a group of 35 friends, it’s clear that there needs to be an extra layer of vigilance.

Take mask compliance, for example. I found it to be mostly there, but it felt like people got more and more lax. All the classic errors of masking were there (not covering the nose, taking it down to talk, not wearing it all). While this is partly on those attendees who flouted proper mask usage, I would like to have seen better enforcement by the con itself. Even the simple act of providing free masks at the con could go a long way.

Dealer’s Hall

The Dealer’s Hall felt like any other at a professionally run big con, but I did notice one thing in particular: People seemed very, very eager to buy stuff. It was as if two years’ worth of pent-up desires to purchase came crashing to the surface. So not only was it packed each day, but attendees were behaving like the money they had was burning holes in their wallets. Because of my wariness over COVID-19, I went in and out, trying to avoid staying in there for too long.

That said, I did purchase a few things with the intent of making them part of my convention memories, so I understand that sentiment. I got an official May hoodie from Guilty Gear Strive, nabbed some new manga, and found a booth that actually sold old Japanese movie brochures. I picked up one for God Mars and a couple for Goshogun.

Other highlights of the Hall included the HololiveEN booth where you could take photos with cut-outs of all the EN girls (including from the inaugural generation), a tribute wall to the late Miura Kentaro, author of Berserk, along with a New Japan Pro-Wrestling booth where you could hit the actual NJPW ring bell.

Panels

One of my favorite things about anime cons are the panels. While Anime NYC isn’t anywhere close to the amount of content you’d get from something like Otakon (and it’s clearly not the con’s priority), there was at least a panel track when you wanted to sit and listen.

Due to other engagements, I was unable to attend the Aramaki Shinji panel. I was told it was informative and even went over some of his work on American cartoons (M.A.S.K., Pole Position), though it seemed like Aramaki had less time than he thought.

Hololive Council

I’ve been getting more and more into Virtual Youtubers over the past couple years, and so I was looking forward to HololiveEN Council’s con debut at Anime NYC.

One of the running jokes among the fandom is that Hololive English group streams tend to be pretty “scuffed,” and this was certainly no exception. The panel started roughly half an hour late, and there were technical issues throughout, such as audio delays. Still, it was good to see the Council get their moment in the sun at a convention, and they were entertaining nevertheless. While the panel was focused on HoloCouncil, HoloMyth (the first generation of HololiveEN) made a cameo with some messages for their kouhai.

One big difference compared to other Hololive conventional panels I’d seen online was that there was less interactivity with the live audience. Namely, much of the interactions were scripted and questions were taken from Twitter rather than a live audience, which was a tad disappointing but also understandable given the size of the crowd and the inevitable technical difficulties. Overall, it felt like a very managed experience, possibly because it was sponsored in part by the Consulate General of Japan in New York. Also, while the interactivity wasn’t as high, the fans in the audience tried to bridge that gap. It was easy to notice who got the most enthusiastic fans—Ouro Kronii’s “Kronies” certainly wear their preferences on their sleeves.

Afterwards, I got some Hololive merch thanks to a friend: A Ceres Fauna button!

New Japan Pro-Wrestling Strong Spirits

While there weren’t many guests who flew in from Japan this year, one surprising appearance came from New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s “Switchblade” Jay White, leader of Bullet Club. He was there to promote NJPW’s new mobile game: New Japan Pro-Wrestling Strong Spirits. 

Jay mentioned that this was his first-ever convention appearance, and he was pretty much a natural at entertaining the crowd. My favorite thing was his insistence that he was the sole reason NJPW sold out Madison Square Garden a couple years ago, and every time he said it, a large and obnoxious image of this fact would flash on screen. 

Although I had a good time , part of me regrets going to this panel because I should have expected an audience of wrestling fans to be loud and care little about the risks of COVID-spreading associated with yelling. One person in particular was loud, maskless, and insisted on shouting constantly. I also had the sense that the fans love bringing attention upon themselves.

As for the game itself, “bizarre” is how I would describe it. Unlike so many other wrestling games, it uses all existing video footage for moves, as well as green-screened video of the wrestlers during turn-based move selection. The developer of the game (from Bushiroad) even said they had to clear rights for the footage in 150 countries. There was also an example of training to improve your wrestler’s stats, and the key point here is that it also has live footage of your chosen NJPW wrestler, this time getting sweaty in the gym. This, I believe, is where the real appeal of the game might be. It will also predictably have a gacha component, but the developer claims it won’t be pay-to-win.

GKIDS

I’ve long known GKIDS for their involvement with the New York International Children’s Film Festival, but they’ve also been putting out some excellent titles on home video lately. GKIDS was there because many of their films were having American or east-coast premieres at Anime NYC. While I was unable to see most of them, I was glad to find out that they’re pretty much all getting limited theatrical releases, notably Hosoda Mamoru’s Belle in January and Pompo the Cinephile in Spring 2022. I was able to see Pompo at the con, and you can read my review here.

At the panel, I found out how successful Promare has been, which is quite a bit. It’s the reason the film keeps getting re-screenings in theaters while others do not.

Cosplay

I didn’t take many cosplay photos this year, but I wanted to at least share a couple.

Final Thoughts

In spite of an inevitable lack of Japanese guests and trepidation over the pandemic, Anime NYC came back at a time when people were champing at the bit to do something in person again. I had a decent time at the con, but seeing the crowds made me realize a truth about this new era: More success means more precautions are necessary if we don’t want worse-case scenarios happening. I hope that whatever fallout occurs due to the Omicron variant, it becomes an outlier rather than a standard of conventions.

Never Forget that Black Lives Matter

“I’m conscious of race whenever I’m writing, just as I’m conscious of class, religion, human psychology, politics — everything that makes up the human experience. I don’t think I can do a good job if I’m not paying attention to what’s meaningful to people, and in American culture, there isn’t anything that informs human interaction more than the idea of race.”

― Dwayne McDuffie 

Black lives matter. An anime blog isn’t necessarily the best place to make that statement, but I felt the need to do so. More than simply leaving it at that, however, I want to write my own thoughts about the intersection between race, racism, and privilege, because I see in parts of anime fandom an alarming component of rancid intolerance and ignorance. I’ve tried in the past to couch explanations of privilege in more analogous terms—comparing it to a fighting game super meter or imagining worlds where privilege is more concretely shown—but I’ve come to realize that such approaches only go so far. There’s a reality staring us in the face about the way black lives are not valued in the United States.

I recently watched the 1942 film The Talk of the Town. While it features a primarily white cast and is not explicitly about racial discrimination, the spirit of the film is very much in line with some of what I’m feeling: 

“The law must be engraved in our hearts and practiced every minute to the letter and spirit. It can’t even exist unless we’re willing to go down into the dust and blood and fight a battle every day of our lives to preserve it. For our neighbor as well as ourself!“

It’s easy to think one can avoid controversy and sensitive political topics by just sticking to one’s fandom. Shamefully, I thought for many years that I could stay distanced from these matters—concerned and saddened, of course, but powerless to do anything. However, even geek fandom itself is rife with discrimination and passive exertions of privilege in ways that poison the ability for something like anime or superhero comics to bring people together through love and passion. When a black cosplayer dresses as a non-black character, there is inevitably a reaction from a vocal segment about how they’re doing it “wrong,” that dark-skinned people should cosplay as dark-skinned characters. A lot of media assumes lighter-skinned characters to be the default, yet when those who don’t match the inherent appearance of a character try to express their own personal take on it, they’re harassed. When light-skinned characters are viewed as the “standard” in so much of our entertainment and media, and dark-skinned fans face gatekeeping that discourages them from expressing themselves through cosplay or other means, there’s a very stark message about what we as a society consider to be “normal.” It’s not that far a leap to go from seeing this, to seeing how black people’s lives are disregarded in America.

I am not black. I am Asian-American, and because of that, I’m going to bring up a topic that is hotly debated among Asians in the US: affirmative action. Examples of affirmative action such as college admission and hiring are sometimes framed as evidence of how white people and Asians are discriminated against in favor of black people. The idea is that because there are these systems in place to give black people help, they are therefore the real beneficiaries of our society. “How can white privilege exist when black people can get into college more easily? Isn’t that black privilege?” But that reaction in itself is very telling. To those on the outside who don’t understand the tacit power their appearance grants them in society at large, “privilege” comes only in the form of concrete milestones like receiving higher education or landing a job.

Privilege is at its strongest not in these big tent-pole life events, but in the small everyday interactions that permeate every single person’s life. Consider the simple choice of how we dress. You might choose to dress well because you like to look good, or maybe it gives you confidence. Maybe you don’t care about fashion and just want clothing that is functional. Or perhaps you grew up in a place where you were ridiculed for your clothing, and you began dressing a certain way as a form of protection against bullies or assholes.

For black people in America, their choice of clothing can be the difference between being viewed as a “respectable member of society” and a “dangerous criminal,” and even then, it might not be enough. There’s a 2016 CNN article titled “For affluent blacks, wealth doesn’t stop racial profiling.” In it, a black Republican senator, a black trauma surgeon, and a black Harvard professor all recount the police approaching them as potential criminals because of their blackness. When Amy Cooper threatened to call the police on Christian Cooper, who simply was trying to tell her to follow mask-wearing rules in Central Park, she purposely pitched up her voice to ham up her role as a “frightened white woman” up against a “scary black man.”

Philando Castile was shot by police in his car in front of his wife and daughter despite following all the rules. He mentioned to the officer that he was a licensed gun owner, and that his gun was in the same place as his license and registration. He was compliant in every possible way, and he still died for it. By default, black people are seen as potential threats to a country and society built on white privilege and black labor, and no amount of dressing well or making enough money can paper over that inherent injustice. What hope did Amadou Diallo, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, or countless others have? 

What’s more, you can even see the damage white privilege causes to black people and the US at large in the malignant counter-arguments against “black lives matter.” “All lives matter” is an attempt to take focus away from a specific and stark problem brought about by the US’s history of enslaving black people and building its economy on their bones. “Blue lives matter” is an attempt to inflame tension and reinforce the dichotomy built upon the assumption of black criminality. These are disingenuous in their intent, and need to be understood as such.

I say it again just as much for myself as I do for any readers: black lives matter. I hope the energy that has come out of the worldwide protests and the calls for justice continue for as long as it takes.

Hajimari no Real G’s: Anime NYC 2019

For the third year straight, Anime NYC 2019 has continued to fill a much-needed void as a New York Metropolitan-centric major anime and manga convention that is run by experienced professionals.

More of the Javits Center was taken up by the con compared to previous years, implying continued growth. While it’s not as large as New York Comic Con, and there’s a bit of an upper limit as to how many dedicated otaku are in the NYC area versus how many comics fans there are, I don’t mind the current balance. One of the strengths and weaknesses of NYCC is that it’s extremely broad and seems more like a general nerd multimedia convention than one dedicated to its core concept of comics and comics-related things. With Anime NYC, however, it still feels like an event dedicated to anime and manga fans fire and foremost. That alone is much appreciated.

The Guests

The guests this year were pretty much straight out of my dream list. Sadly, due to both personal obligations and just the sheer amount of overlapping content, I couldn’t even see everything I wanted to. On the fortunate side, however, I got to attend both the premiere of the first Gundam Reconguista in G film and a press Q&A with the tsundere master herself, Kugimiya Rie. You can check out Ogiue Maniax’s dedicated entries to both of those in the accompanying links.

Anime NYC 2019 went with a pre-show lottery system for getting autograph tickets as a way to prevent people from trying to line up at 3am in the morning and to give a fair chance to those who are coming from far away or don’t have the means or ability to get to the convention extra-early. Despite the fact that I didn’t get any autographs, I didn’t mind this system because it seems to be about as fair as it gets.

Alternately, some autographs could be obtained through purchasing specific products at the start of each day. There were also the $125 Kugimiya autographs that sold out in literally about five minutes, but Anime NYC 2019 was her first US appearance, so that was more or less expected.

That said, I’m not especially fond of the trend I’m seeing at Anime NYC where guests will only sign things from the shows they’re at the convention to promote. I understand why it happens, given that the guests coming want to make sure that the works they’re being advertised for get top billing, but these industry names often have such long CVs that it’s a shame when fans aren’t be able to express love for the particular things they feel closest to. For example, wanted to get autographs from Yukana and Kimura Takahiro, one of my favorite voice actors and character designers, respectively. But rather than being able to have my Pretty Cure and Gaogaigar signed, their autographs were tied to Code Geass—a series I don’t have quite as much affection for. Limiting what can be signed (aside from obvious things like “no bootleg merchandise”) is a direction I’d like to see conventions move away from in general, even more than paid autographs.

Exhibitor’s Hall and Artist Alley

I did not end up buying much at the convention—a t-shirt here, a manga there—but from what I could tell, it was not especially difficult to navigate in terms of foot traffic. At times, it could be difficult to tell which row corresponded to what designated section, but it was manageable. They also placed the Artist Alley in the same space as the Exhibitor’s Hall this year, which meant the loss of the third-floor space but maybe more reliable crossover traffic for both the big companies and the small artists.

One new feature was a special food area in addition to the food trucks outside and the food court down in the bottom level. It was a great idea in principle, but the prices seemed a bit ridiculous even for convention standards. Go Go Curry (aka my favorite Japanese curry chain ever) was the star of the show, but the line was so constantly massive that I never had time to try their convention-exclusive fried-egg-on-gyudon curry. Here’s to hoping that it becomes a standard item on the Go Go Curry menu!

Lantis Matsuri

I was incredibly pumped to attend Lantis Matsuri at Anime NYC this year, as it had an impressive lineup of musical guests: JAM Project, Guilty Kiss from Love Live! Sunshine!!, TRUE, and Zaq. Months prior, I swooped in on a ticket as soon as they became available, and I’m glad that they eventually opened up more tickets for those who couldn’t get the initial ones. I wonder if they were hedging their bets, and trying to see if the demand would be there for more.

When it comes to attending anime music concerts, part of the fun is song familiarity and being able to enjoy your favorite themes live. But even for the less familiar tunes, Lantis Matsuri hit it out of the park. All the singers were fantastic, and really felt like they belonged on that stage. Guilty Kiss clearly had the largest fanbase there, and their hype was well deserved. I still have “New Romantic Sailors” stuck in my head. TRUE and Zaq ended with their best-known hits, “Dream Solister” from Sound! Euphonium and “Sparkling Daydream” from Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions. It was not lost on the audience that these were both Kyoto Animation series themes.

Despite the stiff competition, however, JAM Project showed they they know how to steal a show There’s something about their energy that draws you in that outshines even the brightest stars. I have to wonder how someone completely unfamiliar with them felt about their performance. They led with One Punch Man to get the crowd to realize just exactly who they are, but they also made sure to include songs less widely known by the general audience. Of particular note is their blend of GONG and SKILL, which combined two of their best Super Robot Wars themes.

There were multiple collaborations throughout the concert, and one sticks out to me above all: JAM Project with Guilty Kiss doing the second opening from GARO. Before the concert began, someone near me was expressing their love of GARO, and seeing him scream wide-eyed as JAM Project announced that the next song was “Savior in the Dark” was a real highlight of the con.

My only complaint about the concert was that the audio was a little too loud. I was not sitting especially close to the speakers, but I could feel my ears ringing the next day. I also had this problem at the Gundam Reconguista in G showing, so I have to wonder if it was a convention-wide issue.

Overall

I thought Anime NYC 2019 was great, and I’m looking forward to next year. As the convention gets bigger, though, I hope it continues to properly straddle the line between big professional expo and intimate-feeling fan-oriented gathering. It might be an impossible task, but I still want that dream nevertheless.

“Hi-New York”: Anime NYC 2018

I had nothing but praise for last year’s inaugural Anime NYC, which I felt was the right size, scope, and level of focus for a New York City anime convention. But it can be difficult for a sequel to live up to a hit original, so I was curious to see how the second time around would fair.

Spoilers: It was pretty fantastic.

Exhibitor’s Hall, Artist Alley, and Moving Around

Once again, Anime NYC hit it out of the park in terms of having the right amount of space. It’s a tricky balance to maintain, as too little space means crowding and delays for all attendees but too much space can make a convention feel empty and isolating. Aside from absolute peak hours in the Exhibitor’s Hall and Artist Alley, I never had any trouble moving from place to place. There might come a point where Anime NYC starts to outgrow its space, but the con this year only took up a portion of the Javits—it actually shared convention space with a pet-oriented event called Petcon. In other words, there’s plenty of room to expand.

I also want to re-affirm something I mentioned last year, which is how much I like the Artist Alley space for Anime NYC. Located on the top floor of the Javits, the area is surrounded by glass, which allows plenty of light to come in. At the best times of the day, it makes you feel like you’re walking through a gallery boutique, albeit filled with fandom ships of Voltron: Legendary Defender. As an aside, I was happy to see so much Cardcaptor Sakura stuff this year; perhaps a sign that the recent Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card made an impression.

The Star of the Con: Furuya Toru

Without a doubt, the biggest guest for me was Furuya Toru, the veteran voice actor behind roles such as Amuro Ray (Mobile Suit Gundam‘s protagonist), Pegasus Seiya (Saint Seiya), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), and more. He is, without exaggeration, a legend of the industry, and this was my first opportunity ever to see him. I wanted his autograph and to get some insight from his decades of voice work in anime.

The autograph aspect hit a snag from the get-go, though not entirely through Anime NYC’s fault. For signings, the convention went with a mix of paid sessions and free ticketed ones, and Furuya’s was the latter. This required lining up outside the Jacob Javits convention center Friday morning, which also just happened to be the morning after one of the biggest snowstorms in New York City history. People were made to stand in the cold, despite the fact that there was plenty of room indoors. To Anime NYC’s credit, the con issued an apology the next day and allowed people to line up inside the convention center for Saturday and Sunday. That didn’t solve all the issues with autographs—I’ll get to that later—but it at least showed that they were willing to respond to complaints.

Fortunately, I was able to get an autograph ticket, and I was able to thank Furuya for putting so much passion into his many roles over the years as he signed my Gundam movie DVD box set. It’s a memory I’ll cherish for as long as I live.

As for Furuya’s panel, it was a mix of both moderated discussion and audience Q&A. Sadly, I was unable to stay for the second part, but the first half provided plenty of highlights. One of my favorite exchanges was when the moderator, Kyle Cardine, asked Furuya about playing the character Ribbons in Gundam 00, who’s thematically an evil version of Amuro. Furuya responded that while he was the narrator in Gundam 00, it was “his kouhai” who played Ribbons. For those unaware of the joke, Ribbons is clearly Furuya (his voice is unique and unmistakable), but the role is credited to “Sougetsu Noboru”—a pseudonym that cheekily means “Moonrise,” a wink to the studio that makes Gundam, Sunrise.

I actually had the chance to provide Kyle a question to ask Furuya as well (thank you Kyle!). Specifically, it was asking about his experience working with director Nagahama Tadao on Furuya’s first big series, the seminal baseball anime Star of the Giants. Furuya gave a look of surprise, and then responded that he didn’t really interact with Nagahama, as the man didn’t attend the recording sessions much. However, he also mentioned that he was only fifteen years old when he played Hoshi Hyuuma, the protagonist of Star of the Giants, and that if the show hadn’t been so wildly successful, he probably wouldn’t have ever become a professional voice actor.

This answer is interesting to me, partly because I asked a similar question back in 2010 to another star actor from a later Nagahama anime: Mitsuya Yuji, the voice behind Aoi Hyouma from Combattler V. In contrast to Furuya’s response, Mitsuya actually said that Nagahama pushed him to improve his performance. This says to me that Nagahama must have changed in the years between Star of the Giants and Combattler V. Or maybe the director felt Furuya needed less guidance, even at a young age? It’s startling how talented Furuya can be, given how well he can modulate his voice between younger and older characters.

One minor mishap from this panel was that the moderator Kyle tried to ask him about Director Tomino Yoshiyuki, but something got lost in translation and Furuya didn’t give a real answer. Here’s hoping he comes to New York again, so we can get a second chance at this.

Shintani Mayumi and Studio Trigger

Another big Japanese guest at the convention was voice actor Shintani Mayumi (Haruka from FLCL, Nonon from Kill la Kill, Rikka’s mom from SSSS.Gridman). She was a speaker at the Studio Trigger Live Drawing/Q&A panel, and it gave me the opportunity to ask her about her experience on the 2000 anime Brigadoon: Marin & Melan. At first replying that the topic was unexpected  Shintani went into details about a memory from that time. Her character in Brigadoon, Lolo, resembles a cat, and so she played the role in a feline manner. However, it’s eventually revealed in the show that the cat-like appearance is a disguise to hide its true form, and seeing a closet full of “cat skins” was a shock to her. She then talked about how Brigadoon still has passionate fans.

Afterward, I received a nifty Gridman standee as a prize.

I’m truly glad to have asked Shintani about Brigadoon, but I was also a bit torn at first as to who to direct my question at. I really wanted to pick Koyama Shigeto’s brain about his Darling in the Franxx mecha designs or ask producer Wakabayashi Hiromi about whether they watched Superhuman Samurai  Syber-Squad as research for SSSS.Gridman. However, I’ve had the fortune of interviewing Trigger in the past, so I decided to focus my attention on Shintani, who’s a rare guest at US anime cons.

Shintani also got asked about playing Miss Shamour in Go! Princess Precure, and she basically replied that Miss Shamour shouldn’t be a Precure because then she would be too powerful. What’s more, at the start of the panel, Shintani recited Nonon’s signature “Nani sore?!” to audience applause. Totally worth it.

Other highlights of the panel include Wakabayashi’s desire to put Inferno Cop into Smash Bros., the ridiculous video from Anime Expo they showed of them clowning around and expressing how behind they are on their new show Promare. They also had an extended discussion on who to blame for the cockpits in Darling in the Franxx. Koyama and Tattsun (the translator) claimed that it was because doggy-style is Wakabayashi’s favorite position, while Wakabayashi said it was the result of seriously considering what would make sense for the show. The producer also said that there were six members of the design staff, and any one of them could have spoke up.

DENPA and Asada Hiroyuki

Coincidentally, the Studio Trigger panel was followed immediately by a live drawing/Q&A panel for Asada Hiroyuki, author of Tegami Bachi (aka Letter Bee). He was there to promote the manga Pez, which is being translated and sold by the new manga publisher DENPA. The company’s focus seems to be on eclectic prestige titles, as they also brought artist Murata Range over, and are publishing the eerily beautiful An Invitation from a Crab by panpanya (which I highly recommend).

As for the panel itself, it actually had a soothing music track playing the entire time—what I was told was Asada’s drawing music. Unlike with Trigger, which was more of a Q&A with a live art session as a backdrop, this felt like the live drawing was the main star of the show.

Autographs: Ups and Downs

I understand that autographs are never an easy situation for any convention to handle. No matter how an event tries to plan for them, it’s damned if you, damned if you don’t. In that respect, I don’t especially mind the ticket system for signings, which involves lining up to get a voucher to attend an autograph session later, but there are a couple of criticisms I have for Anime NYC’s approach.

First, on Saturday and Sunday, it required lining up at 8am, and given that people will line up early for autographs, it usually means getting there by 7am or earlier. For anyone not staying close to the Javits, it means perhaps having to wake up as early as 5am. Another drawback is that everyone is in the same line for autographs, which is a problem I also have with Anime Expo in Los Angeles. The fact that all of the autographs are funneled into one line means that even if your desired guest isn’t one of the super-popular ones, you still have to deal with all the people who are waiting for the mega-stars.

I hope Anime NYC does some things differently. First, having lines at the start of the day is a good idea, but try to make them at least a little later. Second, ticket lines for autographs should be split in a way that makes it faster for everyone. If those changes can happen, I think it would benefit everyone.

Screenings

Sunrise showed the first twenty minutes of Gundam Narrative at their Gundam panel, and it enticed me enough to want to finish Gundam Unicorn and to see where the film will go from there. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the way it somewhat re-frames the way society looks at Newtypes has me intrigued.

I also caught the Kase-san and Morning Glories film. It’s a gorgeous animated movie about two girls in love, and the way it explores the depths of their feelings is thrilling on a mental and emotional level.

Concert

I attended the Saturday Anisong World Matsuri concert at Hammerstein Ballroom, which featured Kitadani Hiroshi and Kageyama Hironobu of JAM Project, Nakagawa “Shokotan” Shoko, and idol titans Morning Musume. Despite being standing only for non-VIP audience members, it was one of the best anime concerts I’d ever been to. The mix of idol fans and anisong fans actually made for non-stop excitement, as each performance highlighted the best of the old and the new in a roller coaster of bright spots. Shokotan and Kitadani sang “Pegasus Fantasy” from Saint Seiya, followed later by Kageyama and Shokotan doing “Soldier Dream”!). Kageyama and Morning Musume joining forces for both “Love Machine” (a Morning Musume classic, I’m told) and “Chala Head Chala” (the first Dragon Ball Z opening). By the end, everyone came out to perform “THE HERO !!” from One Punch Man together. Hearing members of Morning Musume shout, ‘NOBODY KNOWS WHO HE IS!” will go down as a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

However, my personal absolute highlight of the entire concert was Kageyama performing “Heats,” the opening to the 1999 OVA Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon. It’s one of the first songs that really made me pay attention to Kageyama and one of his greatest, but the age and obscurity factors made me think I’d never hear it performed live. I am incredibly glad to be wrong.

In Closing

From top to bottom, Anime NYC 2018 was a great event. There were some hiccups, especially when it came to managing autograph lines and the cold weather, but I eagerly await 2019. My only regret is that I didn’t get any interviews for Ogiue Maniax this year. If the convention gods find it in their favor, I hope I can ask next year’s guests some solid questions.

Capitalizing on a New Home: Otakon 2017

“Howatto?! Washington ni?!”

-Jack King, Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo

Introduction: To DC

Otakon has always been my favorite anime convention. With its fan-oriented approach and variety of content, it always feels surprisingly intimate despite its sheer size (it’s generally the largest anime con on the east coast). This year marked a big change, as Otakon moved from its long-time home of Baltimore to Washington DC. It might not seem like that much of a difference—it’s only one extra stop on Amtrak—but for those of us who had grown fond of the previous venue, warts and all, Otakon was synonymous with Baltimore.

However, I will likely not be the only one to tell you that the new location is one of the best things to happen to Otakon. Subjectively, I still have an attachment to Baltimore. Objectively, outside of increased cost, pretty much everything is superior. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is roughly double the size of the old Baltimore Convention Center, meaning less congestion. The adjacent hotel, the Marriott Marquis Washington DC, is bigger and more accommodating. The food choices are greater both inside and outside the convention center, and still fairly reasonably priced. For those who are especially cost-conscious, a Giant Foods supermarket within walking distance is an improvement over Baltimore’s 7-Elevens.

Thus, without even taking into account what happened at the con itself, this new setting certainly provided a more comfortable space for Otakon to put on a show. It was off to a good start right from the beginning.

Dealer’s Hall and Artist’s Alley

One of the best things about having such a large space for Otakon is that the Dealer’s Hall and the Artist’s Alley were easily navigable. Instead of having to wade through a sea of people in order to get anything done, actually going where I wanted to provided little challenge, aside from unfamiliarity with the new convention center. In terms of content, it’s pretty much what you can expect out of a large-sized con. In the Dealer’s Hall, large, official company booths acted as centerpieces with smaller booths on the sides selling figures, posters, manga, anime, and more. The Artist’s Alley had a wide variety of styles, with series such as Voltron, Yuri!!! on Ice, and Persona 5 being especially popular.

One of the hiccups in both areas was a lack of clear marking as to where you were. Booths had individual numbers, but sometimes they didn’t follow a consistent logic, and a lack of visible markings to tell you what row and column you were standing in made things worse. Fortunately, this was brought up at the Con Feedback panel at the end of Otakon, and it’s something they had intended but couldn’t get around to.

There are a couple of other challenges they’ll have to tackle for next year as well. First, the line to the Dealer’s Hall would occasionally get capped. This in itself isn’t unusual, but at one point a friend of mind mentioned that he couldn’t get in while I was already there. But when I looked around, the Dealer’s Hall was the opposite of congested. There was literally room to run around if I so choose. I later realized that it wasn’t the Dealer’s Hall itself that was the issue, it was the space leading to the Dealer’s Hall that was becoming a fire hazard. That’s something that should be addressed by 2018.

The Artist’s Alley also ran into an unfortunate bit of flooding due to a water main break on Saturday evening. A major factor in this was an enormous storm that hit DC. From what I saw, Otakon handled the situation fairly well, and there were no major injuries. This might just be a fluke accident for the first year, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Concert: JAM Project/TM Revolution

This year, Otakon teamed up with the Anisong World Matsuri to bring a number of musical acts to DC. Because tickets cost money (unlike most anime cons), I could only see the Friday concert featuring JAM Project and TM Revolution. As a long-time fan of the former and someone who definitely enjoys the music of the latter, I can say with the utmost confidence that they did not disappoint. Both acts are known for creating not only songs that are good in and of themselves, but for embracing the anime they create music for and elevating them through their compositions. I first saw JAM Project at their US debut back at Otakon 2008, and it was a welcome return.

Both TM Revolution and JAM Project are really adept at making live performances special. Their voices ring out clearly, they get the audience involved, and by the time they’re done you end up feeling like you were part of something greater. Even a few technical hiccups during TM Revolution’s performance couldn’t dent the audience’s fervor.

Before the concert, I had bet on JAM Project and TM Revolution doing an encore together. Most likely, it would be JAM Project’s signature song, “SKILL.” They came through, and the collaboration was everything I hoped for.

For further thoughts on the concert, check out my post on Apartment 507.

The official set list for Otakon 2017 is as follows:

JAM PROJECT

1. Crest of “Z’s”
2. Hagane no Resistance
3. Garo ~Savior in the Dark~
4. The Brave
5. THE EXCEEDER
6. Hero
7. THE HERO!! ~Ikareru Kobushini Hiwo Tsukero~
8. Victory〜Gong
9. Rocks
10. Rescue Fire

T.M.Revolution
1. Inherit the Force
2. Invoke
3. ignited
4. Meteor
5. resonance
6. High Pressure
7. White Breath
8. Hot Limit
9. Flags
10. Sword Summit
11. Heart of Sword

ENCORE
1. SKILL (JAM Project x T.M.Revolution)

Panels

Due to a busy schedule this year and some mishaps on my part, I was unable to attend as many panels as I would have liked. However, this means I can talk about ones I did see in greater detail!

(I also didn’t have any panels this year. Better luck next time?)

The first was “Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga,” which looked at many of the bad boys of shoujo and how their behavior can reflect an often implicit hand-waving of abusive relationships. It looked at both works that ignore its characters’ abusive behavior towards their partners, as well as those that call the characters out on it. The presenter also took time to point out the difference between enjoying something as fiction vs. understanding how it would play out in reality, so it’s not as if it was an automatic admonishment of the audience’s tastes. I thought it was a strong panel overall, but it could be taken to the next level. Perhaps it could even go into understanding why the trope of the abusive boyfriend as lovable partner is so popular and occurs in so many well-received anime and manga.

I would also like to compliment the presenter on giving her stamp of approval to how the series Kiss Him, Not Me approaches the subject of abuse, because while the series is thoughtful in a lot of ways, its initially flippant handling of weight and beauty can really turn people away—even I was put off by it. The fact that the presenter used it as an example showed that she wasn’t trying to automatically write off certain series but was actively trying to figure out what messages these shoujo series send.

Another panel I attended was “Iyashikei: Animated Healing.” It focused on the so-called healing genre of anime and manga, explaining the emotionally therapeutic aspect of such works and why they garner such loyal fans. It was a very thorough panel that showed a wide variety of series that can be considered iyashikei, including both classics and genre-bending examples. One thing the panel didn’t get into but I would have liked to see was the tendency towards an assumed male viewership for healing anime. Still, it was well-presented and informative, and I’d look forward to checking it out again.

Screenings

I had the opportunity to see two films, one of which was a world premiere. I’ve written more extensive reviews for both.

In This Corner of the World

Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1

Interviews

I also interviewed a few of the illustrious guests at Otakon! This year, it was the dynamic seiyuu duo of Furukawa Toshio and Kakinuma Shino, as well as an interview with the director of Eureka Seven, Kyouda Tomoki.

Final Thoughts

The move to Washington DC is the best decision Otakon has made in years. There are very few drawbacks I can think of, outside of a sentimental attachment to Baltimore (and its delicious crab cake truck), but I know that my experience is not necessarily shared with everyone else.

Second, you want to hear other random thoughts about the con, I also appeared on a post-Otakon podcast over at Ani-Gamers. We recorded it right after the con closed on Sunday!

To end this report, here are some cosplay highlights, as is Ogiue Maniax tradition.

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Story is Not a Side Dish in Love Live! The School Idol Movie

lovelivemovie

Love Live! is huge, no doubt about it, and I would say deservedly so. Between the quality of the anime TV series, the appeal of its characters, the addictive nature of its mobile game, and of course the slew of songs produced, in a way it’s no wonder that Love Live! manages to attract both male and female fans in large numbers. I attended the New York City premiere for Love Live! The School Idol Movie, and as expected was greeted with a long line full of cosplayers, glow stick wielders, capes adorned with the characters’ faces, and just generally fans who love the main idol group so much that they practically treat the showing like a live concert. Watching the movie amidst an audience of differing values and perspectives, what I found most interesting is how the movie juggles all the various aspects that go into the franchise while maintaining both a fun experience and a solid narrative, and which speaks further to how malleable Love Live! is as a fan experience.

 

Synopsis and General Thoughts

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In the world of Love Live! are idol groups that represent specific high schools. Kousaka Honoka, a new attendee at Otonokizaki High School, forms a “school idol” group called μ’s along with eight other girls so that they can save their school from rapidly declining attendance and closure. Eventually, through various trials and setbacks, they not only manage to keep their school, but win the biggest school idol competition, the “Love Live,” defeating the defending champions A-Rise in the process. However, because they cherish the specific circumstances and experiences that brought them together, they decide that they will retire μ’s and its name. As the TV series, ends, however, they receive a note of great importance, leading directly into the film.

The note turns out to be a request to fly to New York City and shoot a live performance to promote a bigger and better Love Live, which results in the film being split into two parts: first, the trip to NYC, and then the build-up to a concert back in Japan. Given the first half, I find that there’s something special about attending the NYC premiere, especially because of how much care and attention they put into replicating New York’s landmarks at overall atmosphere. Jogging through Central Park, visiting the new World Trade Center, what stood out to me in particular were actually the restaurants. Visiting thinly veiled analogues for such NYC institutions as Junior’s (where they experience American cheesecake for the first time) and Japanese restaurant Kenka (where the surrounding St. Mark’s Place atmosphere is captured surprisingly well), it’s clear that the people responsible for the movie did their research, and in terms of capturing the NYC experience they did a good job.

As for the second half of the movie, it’s very much designed to conclude the story of the nine girls of μ’s, which in a way is a major surprise. Not only would it be obvious to have their adventures continue forever given their appeal (and I’m sure they’ll find a million ways to extend the overall life of the group), but the film doesn’t even mention the fact that they’re creating another anime with a new group of girls aspiring to be school idols. One of the criticisms of Avengers 2 is that it feels like a stopgap between two different status quos, and it would have been all too easy to feature the new girls in the movie conspicuously as a way to promote them. In fact, there’s nothing of the sort, at least as far as I can tell. This movie, whether it’s truly the end or not, at least feels like a conclusion to a long and entertaining journey.

As a film that’s supposed to be both the sequel and bookend to the story of μ’s, I find that Love Live! The School Idol movie strikes a good balance of calling back to beloved moments of the TV series, being its own story, and giving enough time and energy to each of the characters without having them overcrowd each other. Some figure more prominently into the main narrative than others, especially in the second half, but there was clearly a lot of effort made to keep the movie tight and not to bog it down with having to showcase each girl like it was a fighting game movie. Notably, entertaining musical numbers group the girls together by year (there are three 1st years, 2nd years, and 3rd years among the group), with one girl in each group being the “center,” and are in a way reminiscent of a Fred Astaire movie.

The Characters of Love Live! in The School Idol Movie and Beyond

A lot of the time, what makes Love Live! work is that the characters’ key traits allow scenes to practically play themselves out, and this comes across very well in the movie. For example, certain characters have their favorite foods. Kotori loves desserts and sweets, so naturally she would view America and New York as a never-ending wonderland. In contrast, Hanayo loves food in general but reveres plain white rice above all else, and suffers in an environment that emphasizes bread and pastries and considers rice merely a “side dish.” In such a circumstance, the normally quiet and reserved Hanayo would act out. It only makes sense for Umi to be a nervous traveler, for Maki to be flustered by a close interaction with A-Rise’s leader Tsubasa, and so on. It’s moments like these which capture the appeal of the characters so well, while tying them into the story.

IMAG0633

There are a lot of different values carried in Love Live! fandom, and given people’s differing opinions on favorite characters (Hanayo is the best), level of interest in yuri, amount of fondness for idols in general, and more, it occurs to me that one of the strengths of Love Live! is that it has as much or as little “depth” as you want it to. Take the character of Nico, who’s also by far the most polarizing figure among Love Live! fans. Her appeal (or to some lack thereof) comes from the fact that she’s both the most cynical and optimistic member of μ’s when it comes to being a school idol. She’s sort of like a pro wrestling fan who knows all of the behind-the-scenes information behind wrestlers’ real personalities and controversies, but at the same time gets more excited than anyone else (with the possible exception of Hanayo) by the illusory presentation of the performance.

In wrestling terms, Nico would be a “smark” turned pro wrestler. Having all of this enthusiasm and background knowledge and fully believing in its potency is what prompts her coy, girlish persona and her use of her signature catch phrase, “Nico Nico Nii!”, which has been optimized to be the perfect idol moment. And yet, it’s very easy to say that Nico = “Nico Nico Nii!” Hanayo is rice. Rin is meows. Eli is “khorosho.” Both sides, the simple and the elaborate, are represented well in Love Live! The School Idol Movie, and rather than impacting the quality of the movie and Love Live! in general, I think what it serves to do is widen its appeal. Whether that’s a good thing or not is, of course, up for discussion.

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As a final note, I’d like to talk about the present we received at the premiere. Attendees received character signboards as well as codes for the Love Live! School Idol Festival mobile game. It’s the first time I’ve received anything of the sort, and I think it went a long way in making fans of Love Live! feel like they were part of the franchise experience as a whole, even if they couldn’t fly to Japan. As shown above, I received a Nozomi signboard, which I’m happy about, as she is indeed one of my favorite characters. But if anyone has a Hanayo… leave a comment below.

Actually, one last thing: internet fandom in a nutshell.

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Diners, Saiyans, and Drives

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The fact that anime and manga about food is a “thing” is one of the commonly referenced points to show how diverse Japanese animation can be. Rather than fighting with weapons or fists, characters will often try to outmatch each other in the kitchen, and the results are as diverse as Mr. Ajikko, Yakitate!! Japan, The Drops of God, Fighting Foodons, and indeed the current Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma.

However, I have to wonder if America is that far off from getting something similar, based on the direction that the Food Network has taken over at least the past five or six years. Where once the main feature of the cooking-oriented Cable channel was the variety of personable chefs making food from around the world look amazing, now the most common feature on Food Network has been competition through cuisine. Chopped. Food Network Star. Iron Chef America. Cake Wars. 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. Guy’s Grocery Games. Food Feuds. Food Fight. Throwdown with Bobby Flay. The list goes on.

While one obvious difference between food anime (which doesn’t have to be about competition but frequently is), and these Food Network shows is that one is inherently fictional while the other thrives off of the idea that they’re real people engaged in real rivalries with each other, they share a similar air of dramatic narrative. Both find ways to make something as visually appealing but not as lively as, say, sports or fighting, have more intensity. Close-ups on fine knife work. Flames roaring as someone stir fries using a wok. Unfortunate accidents and injuries. All of this works together to make food preparation a fierce, perhaps even macho world in a bid to get more guys to watch Food Network in the first place.

In that respect, another point that some food anime and Food Network shows have in common is the use of sex appeal. While it’s much more noticeable for a series like Food Wars!, where the girls are drawn to be curvaceous, and eating good food is a downright orgasmic experience, I think it’s no secret that a lot of the Food Network’s female stars are dressed in ways that enhance their bodies. This isn’t a criticism of the use of sex appeal, and especially for TV it’s par for the course. Food and sex are also not unfamiliar companions, and I could see two arguments coming out of this: first, that sex appeal can add to the excitement of food, or second, that the sort of “excitement” it brings emphasizes anything but the food. Food Wars! strikes a “balance” by pushing both to the extreme.

That’s not to leave out the other common type of food anime (and especially manga), however. One of the other common trends with food-themed works in Japanese visual media is an emphasis on travel, discovery, and healing. These series are built upon finding the next interesting food, or having a particular dish or beverage be exactly what someone needs to fix an emotional problem in their life.

Perhaps what might bridge the gap and possibly even get an animated food series on something like Food Network would be to add drama through presentation, to take something like a documentary and try to give it greater expressiveness through the art of animation.

Or they could just make a series where Fieri is a Super Saiyan.

ssj-guyfieri

Park Romi Can’t Lose: Otakon 2015

I found Otakon 2015 to be something of an unusual beast, in the sense that a normally fierce dragon might seem uncharacteristically docile. At first I thought that this might be due to my unusual circumstances. While in years past I was able to attend Otakon all three days, this year I had to skip out on Friday. However, rather than it affecting my perspective in an adverse way, I realized it actually made a truth all the more clear: attendance was significantly down compared to previous years, from an average of 33,000 over the past five to about 28,000 for 2015. This is why, when I began my Otakon attendance on Saturday, what would normally be the most heavily populated day of the con was…surprisingly easy to navigate.

Given the continuous growth of Otakon prior, this might all come as a surprise. However, after discussing it with some friends and fellow fans, we came up with a few possible reasons. First, the music guests this year were not A-List, and this would mean that the attendees who normally came to Otakon for the concerts might have skipped out. Second, and probably more importantly, Baltimore was in the news not so long ago, and as many anime con attendees are fairly young. It would not be surprising to see parents fearing for their children’s lives, even if they allowed them to attend Otakon in years past.

Thus, less traffic, less tension, though for those who did make it, a relatively more relaxing experience… unless you were going for the Romi Park autograph line. In that case, it was probably a no holds barred slugfest with the winner getting the right to hear Ms. Park recite a line by Edward Elric, Shirogane Naoto, or any of her other famous roles. To the victors, it would of course have been worth it.

Park Romi’s Wild Ride

I was originally not planning on attending the Saturday press conference for Park Romi. At the last second I changed my mind, and it turned out to be the best voice actor press conference I’ve ever seen. Normally, seiyuu tend to give very safe answers. All of their characters are their favorites, they can’t give too many production details or insider secrets, and overall it’s just an opportunity for them to promote themselves in a benign, marketable way. With Romi, her personality gave the impression that she would never be able to play that safe route, even if she tried.

She talked about blacking out while auditioning for Air Master after uttering the most fierce battle cry. She pointed out how she loves Syrup from Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go and the fact that he’s a walking contradiction (a penguin that flies, that’s innocent yet also cynical). She mentioned going to the karaoke box to wear her voice out in order to portray the pain and trauma that drives Edward Elric in every situation (she described him as her most difficult role ever). She even talked about what it was like to grow up Korean in Japan. Throughout the Q&A, what impressed me the most is that we gradually got a well-rendered image of Romi as a person and a voice actor. As someone who’s always felt a little bit on the outside, perhaps due to her upbringing and ethnic background, she’s been able to connect to characters who do feel a little off, or feel like they go against the grain. She mentioned always playing villains as if they’re the heroes in their own mind, and it pretty much all clicked into place.

One thing that many people will probably be talking about for years to come is that “Edward Elric” is a HUGE Adventure Time fan, a show where she voices the main character Finn for the Japanese dub. Normally one might think of this as a promotional ploy, but her passion for it was oozing. I heard at the previous panel on Friday that she mentioned her favorite show she’s worked on is Adventure Time. When asked what show she’d like to do more work on, the answer was Adventure Time. Which characters does she like the most? Finn, and Lemongrab. In her own words, “I like violence.”

I was able to ask her one question, which had to do with her work on the anime Ojamajo Doremi:

Ogiue Maniax: You play the role Majo Ran on Ojamajo Doremi. What was it like working on the show and with Director Satou Jun’ichi?

Romi: It was a fresh-feeling place there. Lots of cute girls!

Satou was a man who was very deep. He put a lot of thought and passion into everything he did. He was like a big brother type. But he did care a lot about details. Details, details, even more details. So you can guess that the recordings took many, many hours. (In English) Many, many hours.

However, the absolute highlight of her press conference was when Alain from the Reverse Thieves asked what it was like to work with director Tomino Yoshiyuki on the series Turn A Gundam. Tomino, who appeared at New York Anime Festival back in 2008, is famous as being a rather eccentric personality, and it’s always interesting to hear stories about him. Romi Park added to the legend of Tomino by describing to us her experience working with him on not just Turn A Gundam but also a previous show, Brainpowered.

During the recording for episode 1, Park recalls delivering the main character Loran’s famous line, “Everyone, come back here!” as he shouts to the moon, imploring his people to return to Earth. After first delivering the line, Tomino BURSTS through the door of the recording studio and begins to shout at her, to put more emphasis into it. “HERE! HEEEEERE!” he shouted, as he had his arms stretched out to the side. In episode 2, when Loran hits his privates accidentally, and Park delivered an unconvincing impression of it (having no direct experience), Tomino came bursting through the door again, exclaiming to her that this particular kind of pain is extremely intense but fades quickly. What was most telling about this was the fact that the Japanese MAPPA staff that was on the sidelines (Romi was here as promotion for the anime GARO) could be seen snickering, unable to fully control their laughter.

A few hours later, I also had a chance to interview Gundam X director Takamatsu Shinji, who had also worked with Tomino before, to add to the bizarre portrait of the creator of Mobile Suit Gundam. You can read that interview here.

Panels

Otakon is famous for its strong programming track, full of passionate fans who do extensive research in preparation for their panels, as well as industry panels aware of the fact that Otakon attendees tend to be savvier. For me, it’s one of the absolute highlights of going to Otakon every year, though this year I was only able to attend a few. And yet, from what I heard, I wasn’t alone.

It turns out most of the panels this year were either mostly full or at max capacity, which is rather unusual because generally only the biggest guests and the well-known, charismatic panelists get that much attention. To give a clearer image, usually the Studio MAPPA panel is sparsely populated. 10, maybe 20 people tops who know what a wonderful guest Maruyama Masao (founder and former head of Studio MADHouse, current MAPPA founder and president) is, and how insightful his responses are, but this year I heard that the MAPPA panel was impossible to get into. Now, keep in mind that this is also the year where attendance was down (early reports say the attendance was over 28,000 whereas Otakon these past few years has seen attendance records of over 30,000), a situation that brings up quite a few questions about the demographics breakdown for Otakon attendees, as well as their behavior.

Could it be that the Otakon attendees who normally would have made that extra 2,000+ wouldn’t be the ones attending panels? Perhaps the less famous music acts also meant people looked for something else to do and filled the panel rooms instead. Maybe the overall audience has been getting older and more appreciative of panels. In the specific case of MAPPA this year, it might be the case that people have begun to appreciate them more after they released two high-quality action/fantasy shows (GARO the Animation and Rage of Bahamut: Genesis), and I’ve heard that the success of SHIROBAKO and its reference to MAPPA founder Maruyama Masao (“Marukawa Masato”) was a significant factor as well.

In terms of fan panels, I attended both of the Reverse Thieves’ panels this year. I consider them good friends, but it’s not simply because I know them that I decided to sit in. They do good work and always capture the audience’s attention. Most importantly, they encourage people to check out anime they had no idea about, and expanding people’s knowledge about anime and manga is something i’m always for. Between the new “I Hate Sports: A Sports Anime Panel,” and their staple “New Anime for Older Fans,” the fact that these panels filled rooms with both people and their delightful reactions shows that fans aren’t stubborn when it comes to looking for shows beyond what’s familiar to them; they just need the right guides to get through the darkness and the seemingly infinite possibilities that come with the new slew of titles every year.

I also attended Mike Toole’s “Bootleg South Korean Anime” panel, though sadly could not attend its spiritual companion ran by another individual, “DPRKartoon: Anime from North Korea” (see above comment about panels filling up more quickly this year). Mike is known for being an excellent presenter, and he showed his chops not only in this panel but also his moderation for the Discotek Industry panel immediately afterwards, though I felt like the South Korean Anime panel wasn’t as tightly tuned as I’ve come to expect from a Mike Toole panel. Nevertheless, it exposed me to the unique history of Golden Bat in Korean animation, a superhero from the pre-manga kamishibai era of Japan, whose later anime was allowed to air in Korea in spite of bans on Japanese media because Korean staff had worked on the show. When a later iteration of Golden Bat appeared in Korea, he resembled a certain much more famous Bat-themed superhero, except that this “Bat-like Man” (though Golden Bat originally looked more like Ghost Rider with a cape) flew, laughed like a maniac, and show lasers from his fingers.

Otakon was the inaugural industry panel for Discotek Media, and I had to attend to know just what kind of minds were responsible for licensing Mazinger Z AND Shin Mazinger. It turns out, the aforementioned Mike Toole works for them, though he cites the owner of Discotek being a fan of good ol’-fashioned violent cartoons as a major contributing factor. The panel reminded me that I need to own Horus: Prince of the Sun, and even though I’m not a huge Gaiking fan or anything, the announcement of its licensing drew me towards it, rekindling my old desire to watch “all of the robot anime.” What was perhaps most impressive about the panel was finding out that they got an artist to faithfully recreate the bad-looking American Street Fighter cartoon art for their DVD box set. Given how badly that often turns out (have you seen the old boxes for the 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon?!), I am truly impressed that it looks so great and terrible at the same time.

One set of panels I did not attend due to advice given to me was the panels run by Pony Canyon for their new shows. Bringing directors known for their extensive and storied catalogues, it turns out that questions were restricted to only being about the shows they were there to promote. As someone who loves exploring the history of anime and picking creators’ brains, that was an instant turn-off. I hope that Pony Canyon learns their lesson for next time.

One More Panel: Mine

Last year, due to time constraints and fear of not finishing my thesis, I decided to skip out on preparing panels for Otakon. This year I submitted a couple, and fortunately the one I really wanted to do made it through. That was “Great Ugly Manga,” inspired by my love of 81 Diver, and the fact that the concept of “bad-good” is still relatively foreign to a manga-reading audience (though less so a comics-reading audience in general). I worked with super ultra manga expert Ed Chavez (who also has an appreciation for the awesomely ugly), and together we worked to try and convey the idea that sometimes “bad” artwork enhances the impact of a manga, whether intentionally or not. The panel ran a bit quickly, finishing early, which makes me wish we packed it with more stuff, but that’s a lesson learned for next time. I do really want to do the panel again.

Artist Alley/Dealer’s Room

I came to Otakon this year a little more prepared to spend money on trinkets and goodies, but ended up getting less than I expected, which is probably best for my wallet. Of the purchases I made, the one that sticks out most is an excellent little double-sided charm from Suzuran, which now adorns my recently-purchased smartphone. In terms of official merchandise, most of my purchases actually came from the Pony Canyon booth. I did not go for their extremely expensive bluray sets, especially because $75 per disc sounds absurd to my ears, but I like the shows that they’re involved with a lot, and wanted to support them in a way they might potentially understand. I came away with a t-shirt and poster of Sound! Euphonium, as well as a CD from Rolling Girls, both anime that I highly recommend. As an aside, I also ended up with a free Love Live! School Idol Movie poster for some reason I still don’t quite understand. Will I frame it and carry it with me to the New York premiere of the Love Live! movie? Only time will tell.

The Real Hero of Otakon 2015: Crab Cakes

So anime is cool and all, and Otakon is the largest anime convention on the east coast, but Baltimore is supposed to be known for their crabcakes, and it’s supposed to be a part of the Baltimore experience to eat some awesome ones. Unfortunately, in the past the ones I had were more decent than incredible, but this all changed when a truck decided to carry some of the best crab cakes ever, and parked itself in front of the hotel I was staying at. To describe how good Flash Crabcakes are is to mention that I regret more than ever the fact that Otakon is leaving Baltimore in a couple of years. I also learned that things named Flash tend to be amazing, whether it’s the superhero, the Starcraft player, or indeed the super lump crabcake. The program that spawned Animutations gets a pass for its accomplishments, even if it’s become a bit senile and deranged.

Countdown to the Beginning of the End

Despite the fact that this Otakon didn’t seem quite as outright exciting as previous ones, I came away from it having two of the best interviews/press conferences I’d ever conducted. It was truly a pleasure to pick the brain of two industry veterans, and my only real regret was not being able to attend any Maruyama Masao panels due to scheduling conflicts.

I also left this year’s Otakon aware of the fact that only one year remains in Baltimore. While I think the move to a larger convention center in Washington, DC is probably the right move, I do feel some concern for the city of Baltimore itself. After all, Otakon is a huge money maker for them, and even if attendance was down, there’s a difference between losing 5,000 tourists and losing 33,000, all of whom want to eat in the area. Will there be another convention that tries to fill the vacuum left by Otakon? The battle for MD/VA begins.

Best Duo

Best Couple

Bester Couple, Oooooh Yeahhhhhh

Hundred Hand Slap: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for July 2015

Over the past month, Ogiue Maniax finally hit the $100 mark on Patreon. I think that’s a pretty great milestone, and I’m thankful to everyone who’s helped out. I would consider this one of the more important events as of late, except that I actually also recently received my PhD and that kind of trumps everything else. Looking back, my academic achievement is a direct extension of a route that began with Ogiue Maniax all those years ago, and having my writing be appreciated on multiple levels fills me with a sense of wonderful pride (that’s also fleeting because I’m kind of self-doubting).

This month’s special Patreon sponsors are:

Ko Ransom

Alex

Johnny Trovato

Anonymous

Both Patreon-sponsored posts this month had interesting topics, I think. Touhou, Kantai Collection, and the Idea of the Controlled Fandom Experience is a post that came out of a request to talk about Touhou in general, but because Touhou is in such a different place compared to where it really began to make a mark in the English-speaking fandom, and because there’s so much competition in the mental space of otaku, I had to make it about Kantai Collection as well. For the other one, Miyamoto Ariana, “Japanese-ness,” and Black Cosplay, I’m not someone who normally thinks about beauty competitions or even cosplay, but the achievement by Miyamoto I think inevitably ties to a lot of ideas about identity and identity politics that even extends to the cosplay community.

This past month I also went and replaced my old Patreon milestone, the internet meme post, with a new challenge. At $150 I will now write a genuinely negative review of Genshiken, focusing mainly on its flaws (and not fake mascots ever). As my favorite manga ever, and because I tend to be positive overall with the blog, I see this as a challenge for myself. If you’re interested in seeing me squirm, this is your chance.

I still want to think about the whole Skype conversation reward, but it’s more a time concern than anything else at this point. I also am not sure how valuable talking to me actually is. Maybe once I get myself a silky smooth baritone voice, I can bump it up something fierce.

 

Miyamoto Ariana, “Japanese-ness,” and Black Cosplay

This is a sponsored post. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to be a patron of Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

Miyamoto Ariana is the 2015 Miss Universe Japan, and the first to ever be half-black. In an ethnically homogenous society, she has become a figure of both hope and controversy, defying and reshaping how people see the concept of being “Japanese.” One common question to her from reporters has been what she considers about herself to be most Japanese, and her response has been, “But I am always Japanese.”

Setting aside in this instance the legitimate criticism of beauty pageants and the like, I want to focus less on the issue of judging people, especially by women, primarily on how they look, and more about how people perceive the way others “should” look. In particular, I want to focus on another less well-known controversy within fandom from a few years back, which is the idea that black girls shouldn’t cosplay white or “white-looking” (i.e. anime) characters.

This has justifiably received a great deal of blow-back from fans and cosplayers of all ethnicities, with people arguing that cosplay is something that transcends race. After all, it’s not necessarily about replicating the character perfectly in reality. The cosplayer is just as important if not more than the costume itself. However, while not wrong in any way, such an argument still comes from the idea that one is defying the presence of race through cosplay. With Miyamoto Ariana’s victory though, something even more fundamental to this idea of “cosplaying the wrong skin color” enters the equation.

Essentially, when it comes to anime characters especially, black cosplayers are working from the perspective that Japanese-ness doesn’t matter, and they’re basically right. What Miyamoto does is attack this at an even more base level: what does “Japanese-ness” even mean? You can look black, be Japanese, and neither is a compromise of the other, even if the surrounding culture (or subculture) tries to make it seem that way.

Of course, when it comes to both beauty queens and cosplayers, on some level image is important, but efforts by both black cosplayers and Miyamoto Ariana show how the very assumptions that go into how we see things, how we see the relationship between reality and fiction and at what point one appears to be the other, can be challenged and potentially transformed on a societal level. At least, that’s where I hope things will go.